NEW YORK -- At the end of May, when Ivan Nova was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, manager Joe Girardi said the pitcher had two options -- he could pout about it, or he could work to prove he belongs in the Major Leagues. Nova chose the latter, and it paid off.
After making three solid outings for Scranton, Nova's back with the Yankees, and started Sunday's series finale against the Rays.
Nova delivered, tossing a quality start but taking the loss. He hurled 6 2/3 innings of three-run ball while striking out seven batters. His improved control vanished in the seventh inning when he hit back-to-back batters, but for the first six innings, he was better.
"You don't want to get sent down, but sometimes that helps," Nova said. "That helps you to be where you need to be. But I'm here right now, and that's a good thing."
In three starts for the RailRiders, Nova went 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA, and struck out 17 batters in 17 2/3 innings.
Girardi said much of that has to do with his improved fastball command and a sharp curveball.
"I expect him to go out and pitch well," Girardi said before Sunday's game. "We sent him down there to get stretched out and get some consistent work. His command of his fastball is good, he has a chance to be really good."
Sunday's outing was, at the very least, a flash of talent for the otherwise inconsistent Nova, who exited the last start he made in April with pain in his right elbow and was placed on the disabled list the following day with inflammation in his right triceps.
When Nova was activated from the DL on May 23, he was sent to the bullpen, and he was effective in relief. In his last appearance with the Yankees, on May 29, he threw five innings in relief against the Mets and allowed only one run on five hits, with one walk and six strikeouts.
But just two days later, the Yankees optioned him to Scranton -- along with pitcher Vidal Nuno -- to clear room on the roster for Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, who were being activated from the DL.
The Yankees haven't announced their long-term plan for Nova, but for him it's all about proving he belongs in the bigs.
"Obviously, when you've had a taste of this life, you don't want to be in the Minor Leagues. This is a place that every player dreams about being," Girardi said. "The trick is not getting here, the trick is staying here for a lot of guys."
Chris Iseman and David Wilson are associate reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.